Mental health problems ‘cost Wales more than £7bn a year’

MENTAL health problems cost Wales more than £7 billion a year, an NHS report published today says. About half the cost – equivalent to 7% of Wales’s GDP – comes from providing health and social care, and from lost economic output.

The rest is due to less tangible “human costs’’ that reduce quality of life, for example failing to look after children properly.

The combined estimate of £7.2 billion is bigger than Wales’s £6 billion health and social care budget.

The report tries to present evidence for promoting improvements in mental health and underline the benefits of mental wellbeing.

Subjective wellbeing is said to increase life expectancy by seven-and-a-half years, provide a similar degree of protection from coronary heart disease to giving up smoking and cut drinking, smoking and cannabis use among young people.

It calls for more investment and for services to intervene early in people’s lives, including through providing support for parents and children.

Relative to its importance, spending on mental health is “disproportionately low’’, it says, accounting for 12.2% of public expenditure on all health and social care.

The research, commissioned by the All Wales Mental Health Promotion Network, says preventing conduct disorders in the most disturbed children would save about £150,000 per case during the child’s life.

By comparison, the cost of intervening is said to be “very low’’, ranging from £1,350 to £6,000 per child for pre-school parenting programmes.

Authors cite the example of the charity Place2Be which offers counselling in schools. A recent analysis found a potential return of £6 for every pound invested in it.

The attempt to put a price tag on the cost to society of the broad spectrum of mental health problems comes as the public sector braces itself for a spending squeeze.

A report by the Wales Audit Office this week warned devolved services could see annual losses of £500 million starting in the next financial year.

The report also comes in the wake of last year’s major internal reorganisation of the NHS.

Professor Mansel Aylward, the network’s chairman, said he wanted the report to go down as a “marker’’ on the importance of mental health.

“We are not a lobby group. We are a group that’s intent on providing evidence-based data which says ‘Society, wake up. We need to do something about this,’’’ he said.

“Mental illness is widespread. Its consequences are multi-dimensional so the potential benefits of prevention are extremely high.

“The report illustrates just how much mental health problems cost the Welsh economy both in terms of treatment and loss of earnings.

“Although there may be many gaps in the data, the economic benefits of improving mental health may be extensive.”